Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Touch of Bukavu

            In order to get to Bukavu, I have to take a speed-boat across Lake Kivu.  On one side of the lake is Rwanda, on the other, Congo.  It's interesting to look at both as the landscape flies by, and think about how many people's lives have been ruined because of this partnership.  Both sides of the water look exactly the same.
          When I get to Bukavu, it feels a lot more like home.  It looks like Butembo, with just as much suffocating brown dust and houses made out of mud rather than dried lava.  The city is perched on the lake, and looks a bit like a Mediterranean village; from afar.  Before coming to Bukavu, an acquaintance in the States gave me the contact information for a man named Padjos, who carts Internationals around to visit the different NGOs.  Padjos is waiting for me at the dock, along with a mob of taxi drivers when we pull up.  There are so many people it's difficult to open the car doors, and we have to drive slowly to avoid hitting the many limbs poking into the road.  Padjos gets right to the point.
    -I think it's best for you to go to Panzi Hospital, and Women for Women International, and you should talk to Christine, who heads the V-Day program for Eve Ensler.
          He is a short guy with little tufts of hair on his face.  He almost looks like he's just finishing up puberty, but I know he's older than he looks.  He only speaks when it's absolutely necessary and the pauses in our conversation make me slightly nervous.  He seems to be sizing me up after every word.
    -Unfortunately, he continues from the backseat, it's almost the weekend, and right now everyone is already closed.  I propose that since tomorrow is Saturday, you can visit my NGO and see what we do.
          Aside from touring the International scene with eager-eyed muzungus like myself, Padjos explains that he has a small Non-Profit Organization called Centre Kitumaini, which means hope in Swahili.  They too are working to help women who have survived sexual violence, and those who are displaced by the war.
    -That sounds great, I say immediately.
          I'm tired of International NGOs, after the many meetings in Goma, and I'd love to spend the day with a local organization that sounds a bit like COPERMA.  It's rapidly becoming evening, so Padjos and the driver leave me at a hotel that looks like it's straight out of the game Clue.  Something about the tablecloths and dark rooms make it seem like there should be a butler at the door and a murder during dinner.  There is an up-scale hotel with a restaurant and bar over-looking Lake Kivu, and I head there after settling in.
          The hotel is beautiful, and more luxurious than anything I've seen in months.  And it is flooded with muzungus.  The bar is an open patio perched just above the lake, and the dark water extends in all directions.  I spend the evening sipping on whisky, eating salad with real lettuce, and eaves-dropping on University students as they refer to the problems here as, "so Orwellian."
          The owner of the hotel drives me home, since it's too dark to walk and the moto-taxis are no longer out.  He's an old Belgian man with a slicked back come-over and even slicker suit.  In the restaurant of my hotel, there are no clients, even though it's only 10:30 p.m., but several servers are watching a film on the big screen T.V.  They glance at me briefly when I come in, before looking back to the television.  I sit outside on the patio and try to use the slow, but wireless internet.
          Within a few minutes, one of the servers comes onto the patio.  The sounds coming from the restuarant inside make it clear the film being watched is a porno of some sort.  The film is reaching several climaxes, with ominous music in the background.  It must be a horror-porn, or something along those lines.
    -Hello, he says in English.
    -Hi, how are you?
          I look at him waiting for him to speak but he just stands there, looking at me.
    -Uhh... he hesitates, and I know hello is the extent of his Anglais.
    -What is your name? What are you doing?  He switches back to French.
    -My name is Amy, and I am using the internet, but it's really slow.  Is it always this slow?
    -It's slow?
          He speaks with a lot of hesitation, as if he's either drunk, preoccupied, or just not very bright.
    -Yes, slow.  The connection isn't very good.
          I point to the little bars on my screen, that are mostly empty.  He leans over to look at the computer, putting his face almost against the screen.  He moves to the right pressing his face closer to mine, still pretending to look at the computer.  I lean backwards away from him but the wall is behind me.  He turns his head and tries to kiss me.  I turn my head away and he collides into my cheek.
    -You have the wrong idea, I say, realizing there is nobody in the vicinity except maybe his friends watching the film inside.  The sounds of women moaning, layered on top of descending piano chords is still playing loudly in the background.
          He steps back and looks confused.  I pull my computer bag towards me and slowly start the motions of packing up my things.  Suddenly, he leans forward again.  His face is immediately a few centimeters in front of mine, and his lips are actually puckered.  I turn my head and realize both of his hands are on my chest.  I push him away again and stand-up.
    -That's not okay.
          I have to tread lightly here; realism within idealism.  I can't react too strongly because I might hurt his ego, which is the last thing I want to do with no one else around.  I should have gone straight to my room.  I thought $80.00 a night was supposed to be insurance for this kind of thing.  I start packing up my things very obviously.  He looks confused.
    -I am Laurent, he says.  You are my friend no?  Aren't you my friend?
    -Nice to meet you Laurent, but I am not your friend.  Definitely not in the way you are thinking.  I believe you are watching a pornography film inside, and you are coming up with very wrong ideas.
          He laughs a little, but steps back.  I'm right.
    -No, he says.
          He laughs a little more, I can tell he's really uncomfortable now.  I don't want to be around for that.
    -Have a good night.
    -You're going to bed?
    -Yes, I am going to bed.
          He walks slowly back into the restaurant, still chuckling to himself and glancing back at me uncomfortably.  I quickly finish shoving my things back in my bag.  I have to walk past him to get to the stairs up to my room.  There are only four rooms on the third floor, and I'm sure he has access to the knowledge of which one I am sleeping in.  I don't know if the hotel has an extra key.  I don't think he would attempt to enter my room, but I have to consider the possibility.
          When I'm back in my room, I get more and more nervous as I think about him being one of the only night workers left.  I never feel this uncomfortable in Butembo, where there are soldiers everywhere and the word viole is like a broken record.  I don't sleep well.  I go to bed clutching my knife in my hand and wake up during a dream, saying, "I will shoot you," out loud into the dark.
          I make plans in the fog of sleeplessness to change hotels first thing the next day.  I can't help but wonder if that scenario would have ended differently, if I were Congolese.


  1. Salut!!!My name is bogdan from Romania!!!
    We can be friends ???
    I can put on your list of blogs?? thanks

  2. Wow, Amy. I'm wondering if he just expected you to submit or something. WTF? It's like society there has allowed rape to be socially acceptable among many of the men.